Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Super Cheap Disney Guide Book at Target (or Amazon)

Looking for a really cheap WDW guide (or if you are like me and just want another WDW guide for the bookshelf)? If so, you've gotta check this out.

I was browsing the Target "Dollar Spot" and came across "Frommer's Walt Disney World with Your Family" - appears to be a nice pocket-sized guide to all things WDW for traveling with your family. Although the book was not exactly $1, it is still a great deal at $2.50. Get your copy at Target today!  Or, if you're willing to wait until it's available, you can find the book on Amazon for only $1.10 - an especially great deal if you have an Amazon Prime account with free 2-day shipping!

Either way, grab your copy today!



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taking a Break - Good for Kids and Adults Alike

Touring Plans had a great post today - "The Magic of Taking a Break." I'll be the first to admit that I don't always bear this in mind, and it is my wife that keeps our family in check when it comes to taking necessary breaks.

Taking an afternoon break for naps allows younger kids (like our 2.5 year old son) to stay up later than they normally do to see the fireworks. Our son had never been awake as late as he was when we watched the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes, but he did amazing because we had taken a break for a long nap earlier in the day (in fact he only cried because he didn’t want to leave the park after the fireworks!).

If your kid(s) are able to stay-up later, you get great memories like this - totally worth giving up a few hours during the day!
Watching the Main Street Electrical Parade - exactly as I remember it from when I was a kid!

Watching the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.

Plus, you can avoid the hottest time of the day at the parks if you break midday. And, even if you don't go in for a nap, you can relax by the pool, go swimming, etc. to cool down and just take a break from the fast pace of touring the parks. Or, use your break to grab some lunch and/or some drinks.

Another routine we found to work well for us on our last trip was to hit Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon first thing in the morning before crowds got too long, and then head back to our hotel for naps after lunch before visiting a park in the late afternoon/evening.

Want more advice on touring the parks and inside information on how do so efficiently? Be sure to check out Touring Plans!


What Attractions Will a Young Child Enjoy? Part I: The Magic Kingdom (MK)

I am a firm believer that one is never too young (or too old) to visit WDW. Contrary to what many people believe, there are plenty of attractions that are great for young kids. A few days ago, Touring Plans featured a post about what age is an appropriate age to let older kids go off and do their own thing at Disney. I'm going to focus on the oppposite end of the kid spectrum - toddlers/preschoolers. I'll assume for purposes of this blog series that a preschooler will be okay doing anything that we did with our two-and-a-half year old son (they may actually be able to do more, being restricted only by height requirements for certain attractions and/or any parental intuition regarding fears). And, to be honest, we did most of these attractions last year when our son was only one-and-a-half, as well as quite a few of the key attractions when we took him right after his first birthday.
I've got to start somewhere, and the Magic Kingdom (MK) seems like the logical place to start - if you were going to Walt Disney World for just one day, this is the park you'd most likely visit. Plus, it's the park you would probably think has the most toddler-friendly attractions. I think that's fairly accurate, but as you will see over the course of this series, there are plenty of toddler-friendly attractions at each of the Disney parks.
There are several distinct sections of the Magic Kingdom: (1) Main Street USA; (2) Fantasyland; (3) Liberty Square; (4) Frontierland; (5) Adventureland; and (6) Tomorrowland. There are fun things for toddlers in each of these areas, but some have more than others, so if you are pressed for time (i.e., you've got to work in a nap time), you may want to focus on those sections of the MK that have more toddler-friendly attractions (e.g., Fantasyland). I've thought about several different ways to go about discussing this topic and have decided to simply discuss things in the order in which we did them on our last visit. Consider it our personalized touring plan (which, by the way you can actually create at Touring Plans). And, it actually works out that our touring plan took us through each of the areas separately, so you'll find this review of attractions generally discussed by area as well.

First recommendation: Get to the Magic Kingdom before it opens (hey, if you've got young children, you're probably up that early anyway...). Not only will this give you head start on riding a certain key rides (e.g., Dumbo) before the lines get too long, but you'll be able to watch the opening ceremony before rope drop (when the park officially opens to guests). Remember to allow yourself plenty of time to get over to the MK - if you're driving, you'll have to park at the Ticketing and Transportation Center and take the ferry or Monorail over to the park. If you want to get to the park extra early, consider booking an early dining reservation at the Crystal Palace.

Once you enter the park, hustle as fast as you can straight down Main Street (there aren't really attractions here per-se, mainly just restaurants, shops, etc., so you can come back to check these out later). Make your way underneath Cinderella's Castle and immediately get in line to ride Dumbo. In terms of the attractions you'll be able to do with small children, this one is going to have the longest line, so if you can cross it off your list before the line gets too long, you will be in great shape.
Whew. Now that you've gotten Dumbo out of the way, you can slow your pace down a bit and enjoy Fantasyland, where you'll find the most options for kids. You might want to consider riding Peter Pan, and Winnie-the-Pooh, as the line for both of those rides tends to get long as well (as does Snow White's Scary Adventure, but we have skipped this attraction for fear that it might actually be a bit scary for a small child). Note, however, that you can get Fast Passes for Peter Pan and Pooh, and generally if you get one for Pooh, you also receive a bonus to watch Mickey's Philharmagic right after you ride Pooh. We've done that twice and it works out well. Also in Fantasyland, you've got it's a small world. The line has not been that long on our last two visits (first week of May) so it's easy to ride this attraction several times if it becomes one of your kid(s)' favorites (it is for our son, who has been singing the song ever since we got home from WDW). We probably rode small world six times over the day and a half we spent at the MK. You should also be sure to ride Prince Charming Regal Carousel, and let your kid(s) have a go at pulling the sword from the stone.
 And, last but not least in our tour thru Fantasyland, is the Mad Tea Party (aka the Tea Cups). My parents claim that I couldn't ride these as a child because it made me sick. Either I've outgrown that, or it was simply a story they made up to keep from having to ride the Tea Cups themselves! We rode the tea cups twice on our last visit and actually enjoyed them - a lot of fun for kids to control the speed and direction of the spinning, etc. Note that that there will soon be many more attractions once the Fantasyland Expansion is completed over the next couple of years. Can't wait! Also of interest to all the parents out there with little girls - the Bibidi Bobidi

We generally head thru Liberty Square to Frontierland after finishing Fantasyland (you could either head in the direction of Liberty Square or in the opposite direction toward Tomorrowland). There's frankly not a lot to do in Liberty Square unless you are dining at one of two table service restaurants (Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Square Tavern). The Haunted Mansion is, in my opinion, probably a bit too scary for a small child. And, I'm guessing the Hall of Presidents would not hold a small child's interest. You could ride the Liberty Square Riverboat, though. I'll admit that it's been many years since I have ridden this, but I could see the 17-minute cruise being enjoyable for a small child.

Likewise, Frontierland generally has attractions geared more towards an older crowd (i.e., they've got minimum height requirements, such as Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad). However, one kid favorite in the area is the Country Bear Jamboree. There's also Tom Sawyer Island, although we have not done that yet with our son (it was closed for refurbishment on our recent trip). Note that the minimum height requirement for both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad is 40 inches, so older/taller younger kids may be able to ride if you think they'd be up for it. Splash Mountain is pretty tame except for the very big vertical drop at the end. Big Thunder Railroad is more of a standard twist and turn type of roller coaster.
One advantage of heading from Fantasyland on thru to Frontierland is that it places you in one of the best spots in the park to grab a quick lunch. Just at the far end of Frontierland and as you enter Adventureland you'll find Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn and Cafe (burgers, sandwiches, salads), the Golden Oak Outpost (delicious chicken and fries - one of our QSR favorites) and, if you're lucky, Tortuga Tavern (quick Mexican fare). This will put you in great logistical shape to start the afternoon in Adventureland.

There are several very kid-friendly attractions in Adventure land including the Jungle Cruise (you might send someone on ahead before eating lunch to get Fast Passes as the line can get long for this one), the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, The Enchanted Tiki Room (we have not done this with our son as it has most recently been closed for refurbishment as a result of a fire, however, this has led Disney to return the attraction to something closer to its original state). Adventureland also contains two of my childhood favorites - the Swiss Family Treehouse (loved the book and the movie, too!) and Pirates of the Caribbean - still one of my absolute favorite attractions in all of WDW. You'll have to decide for your own on Pirates - we took our son on it when he was one, but later decided that maybe it might be a bit too scary, so have not taken him on it on our latest trips. My wife is kind enough to let me ride it though while she watches or son. :) Luckily it's always been a short line on our recent trips. I always remember it being long as a kid and truly thought that the queue was one of the best parts of the ride. Now you just breeze right through to the boats. You'll also find the Pirate League makeovers here, too (separate reservation and fee required).

Oh, and don't forget to stop by Aloha Isle as you leave Adventureland to savor the famous Dole Whip - a delightfully refreshing treat. Or, if that's not your thing, grab a Mickey ice cream bar as you make your way across the hub in front of Cinderella's Castle and over to Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland has a number of kid-friendly rides, including Tomorrowland Indy Speedway (minimum height of 32 inches if accompanied by an adult and 54 inches to ride alone) and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We also did Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, but it was not at all amusing, so don't waste your valuable time here... Stitch's Great Escape is considered intense and has a minimum height requirement of 40 inches, while Space Mountain has a minimum height requirement of 44 inches, so neither of these would be appropriate for young children. We have not taken our son on the Carousel of Progress or Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover yet, but both of these would be good for small children. Lastly, there's the Astro Orbiter. To be perfectly honest, I've never been on it, but it seems like it would probably be okay for younger kids - kind of like a Dumbo/Magic Carpets of Aladdin type of ride.

Finally, there's the Walt Disney World Railroad with its Main Street station. And just to the side of that, next to Tony's Town Square Restaurant, is the Town Square Theater on Main Street, where you can now find Mickey and Minnie (since the closing of Mickey's Toontown Fair to make way for the Fantasyland expansion). Note that if the line is too long, you can now get a Fast Pass to get your photo with Mickey and Minnie, which is great news - we actually found that to be the longest line we waited in on two of our recent three trips!

Well, that pretty much covers it for the Magic Kingdom (minus parades and shows, which we will discuss in a later post). As you can see, a toddler/preschooler can actually do most of the attractions at the MK. Happy Planning!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New WDW 40th Anniversary Merchandise!

Check out the new merchandise created especially for WDW's 40th anniversary!

I particularly love these glasses:
While the merchandise will not be available to purchase online, if you're not heading down to WDW any time soon, you can order items through Walt Disney World Mail Order at 877-560-6477.

Photography Tip: Disney Water Parks

Headed to one of the Disney Water Parks - Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon? Before you go, purchase a disposable, waterproof camera to capture the memories. We paid about $13 for ours, and bought it at the Publix by our resort, but you may be able to find one cheaper back home or online before you head to Orlando. You'll be able to take fun photos while on the water slides, etc. and not have to worry about losing/damaging your real camera. Also, note that today Disney Parks announced on its blog that the PhotoPass service was returning to the Water Parks.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dining Spotlight: San Angel Inn (EP)

As I write these dining reviews, I often feel like I don't have quite the breadth of knowledge of the restaurants as I would like. We've limited ourselves to only review those restaurants where we've dined, but we tend to keep it pretty simple when we dine (that is, we only order what we'd normally order at a restaurant and don't order extra dishes, etc. - we'll leave that to the experts at the Disney Food Blog!). However, I feel pretty comfortable about writing this review: San Angel Inn, located inside EPCOT's Mexico pavilion, is one of our family's favorite table service restaurants.  In fact, we've dined there three times in the past year (yes, that means we ate there twice on our last visit...). For us, it's just one of those places you keep in the rotation because you know you love it. Not to mention, San Angel Inn is located in what is to me one of the coolest spots in all of Walt Disney World. I absolutely love the Mexico Pavilion and the Gran Fiesta Tour. The effect of being outside at night under the stars, strolling through a Mexican marketplace is just so relaxing, especially on a hot day.
We've found the food here to be quite delicious, and while we are no experts on Mexican cuisine, this tastes pretty authentic to us (or at least its not your average strip shopping center Mexican restaurant). The items we have tried have been fresh and flavorful. For starters, you get a basket of tortilla chips and salsa. And yes, they are complimentary (I can't stand when Mexican restaurants charge for chips and salsa!). The salsa is spicy and earthy with kind of a smoky chipotle taste. As for beverages, I enjoy washing my food down with any of the Mexican beers offered. However, they serve up a variety of margaritas as well which many people seem to enjoy. In terms of entrees, I've had the enchilades verdes con pollo twice and loved it both times - very delicious and filling with rice and beans.  I've also had the tacos de filete/ribeye, which was also tasty, but smaller in portion size and served a la carte. My wife has twice had the tostada de tingas off of the appetizer menu for her entree. It was plated differently each time, but delicious all the same!  Really, we don't think you can go wrong here! Even the kids menu has some good, authentic options. Our son had the chicken tacos that came with a fruit cup, and churros for dessert, which we all shared.
The only disappointment we've had with the San Angel Inn, was the lack of extra festivities here (or in the Mexico Pavilion) on Cinco de Mayo. Maybe we were just there too early in the day, and things got going at night...
A couple of final tips -if you make an early enough reservation, or even walk-up without a reservation right when the restaurant opens, ask for a table by the water. We asked and received one on both of our recent dines. Best seats in the house and provides extra entertainment for kids to be close to the volcano and watch the Gran Fiesta Tour boats float by. Speaking of the volcano, did you know that the lava is activated by kids participating in the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure scavenger hunt? We didn't, until our server, Eric, told us. Eric also gave us the history of the real Mayan pyramid on which the Mexico Pavilion is based. We highly recommend you ask for Eric on your next visit - excellent server and is great with kids - he listened to our son talk non-stop about the volcano!

New Disney Travel Video Series: Part 1: The Resorts

Looking for a quick introduction on the Disney resort categories? Then check out part one of a new three part series from Travelocity, launched today on the Official Disney Parks Blog. This quick, three-minute video gives you an introduction to the resort categories (value, moderate, deluxe) and highlights an example of each category.



Video courtesy of the Official Disney Parks Blog. For additional information and to explore the Walt Disney Resorts, click here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival

Unfortunately, we cannot speak personally about the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, having not yet had the opportunity to visit WDW during that time of the year (soon, though, very soon...) That being said, I encourage you if you have the scheduling flexibility (which can often be difficult with kids in school, work schedules, etc.), to visit WDW during this time of year. This year, the Food & Wine Festival will be held from September 30-November 13, 2011.

Here's a couple of great resource to keep you up-to-date on the Festival news: the Disney Food Blog and the Official Disney Website for the Food & Wine Festival.

This year's Festival looks to bring some exciting new flavors, including Portugal, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

Plus, if you visit at this time of year, you can also participate in Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, which runs on select evenings from mid-September through Halloween.

Cooler weather, smaller crowds, fun festivities and delicious food and drink - I can't think of any better reasons to head down to Disney!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Downtown Disney

If you've got some time to spare while at Disney, you must check out Downtown Disney, even if just to grab a quick meal and stroll around for a few minutes. The Downtown Disney Marketplace contains numerous shops and restaurants that can enhance your Disney vacation. The Earl of Sandwich is a can't miss spot for a quick meal - the sandwiches are second to none. We've also enjoyed a lunch at Fulton's Crab House. However, these are only two of the many dining options at Downtown Disney. There's pretty much an option for everyone - from an Irish (Raglan Road) to Italian (Portobello). And for those with kids who are into dinosaurs, the T-Rex Cafe might be a good place to eat. We had planned to dine there on our recent visit, but changed our plans and ended-up at Earl of Sandwich - probably better for us in terms of food quality, but certainly less entertaining for our son. Check out the DFB Disney Dining Guide for a complete list of Downtown Disney restaurants.

Beyond dining, there are a lot of great shopping options at Downtown Disney - perfect for souvenir shopping! There's Once Upon a Toy - a great store with lots of character merchandise, and the famous Disney Mr. Potato Head parts; Disney's Days of Christmas; Disney's Pin Traders - the headquarters for Disney Pins (I'll admit that I wasn't really into this whole pin collecting thing, but this shop definitely intrigued me...); the Lego Imagination Center (would have loved to visit this when I was a kid!); and last but not least, the World of Disney - the world's largest Disney character store. How can you resist? And, to top it all off - parking is free!

We've definitely made Downtown Disney a must-do on our family's trips and we think you'll want to do the same!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rider Swap

Okay, truth be told, we have never taken advantage of this great  time-saving tip (my wife has been kind enough to let me ride certain attractions (e.g., Expedition Everest) without desiring to ride them herself.) But, if both parents or whatever adults or older kids you have in your party want to ride an attraction and there are other kids who are not tall enough to ride certain rides or don't want to ride them, but other members of the family do, try the rider swap option - available at many attractions - which will let your spouse/other person staying with your young child(ren) hop on the ride right after you finish, so that you don't have to wait in line twice. Or, if not every adult wants to ride the attraction you may be able to take advantage of faster moving single-rider lines (like at Expedition Everest) or grab a FastPass so you can ride the attraction at a future time while the rest of your group is doing something else.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pressed Pennies = Fun and Inexpensive Disney Souvenir

Here's a great souvenir ideas for kids of all ages at Disney - pressed pennies (or pressed quarters if you fancy yourself a high roller...) For a comprehensive list of pressed coin machine locations and designs found at the Disney Parks, check out the official, unofficial guide at http://www.presscoins.com/. AllEars.net also keeps a pressed penny list. You can find coins featuring your favorite characters as well as iconic Disney attractions, restaurants and more. Make sure to take plenty of change with you (or ask the bartender at Animal Kingdom's Yak & Yeti restaurant for change - he keeps a cup of pennies just for such an occasion!) - pressed pennies will cost you two quarters plus the penny to press; pressed quarters will cost you 4 quarters plus the quarter to press. Pressed pennies make for very inexpensive souvenirs and have the added fun of hunting for the machines and the various designs throughout the parks!